Rogers was actually named Leonard Slye? Leonard Slye was a very talented young singer and was the co-creator of The Sons of the Pioneers, along with Bob Nolan. The Sons of the Pioneers became very successful with hit songs such as “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”. Leonard’s first movie roll was as one of The Sons of the Pioneers and uncredited. Leonard Slye got credit now and again in other movies and he used the name Dick Weston in Wild Horse Rodeo.
Did you know that the cowboy star we knew and loved called Roy (1937) and The Old Barn Dance (1938). In 1938 he had his first starring role as Roy Rogers in “Under Western Stars”. Leonard Slye won an Oscar Nomination for the song “Dusty” in this movie and Roy Rogers became a star. The problem for Leonard Slye was that the name Roy Rogers had been invented for this movie and, if you understand copyright laws, made the name Roy Rogers property of the owner of the movie copyrights, namely Republic Studios.
Roy Rogers had become a very successful star and was making public appearances, merchandising, and cranking out movies for Republic. A struggle ensued because Leonard Slye was having to tolerate Republic taking the lion’s share of the bounty. Leonard Slye tried going to other studios but he could not take the name Roy Rogers with him. Herbert Yates, owner of Republic Studios had him on that issue. Leonard had the face, the talent, and the personality but Republic had the name. As contracts ran out and Leonard legally changed his name to Roy Rogers the power shifted. In 1940 Roy forced a new contract on Yates giving Roy the rights to his face, voice and name. Leonard was now Roy Rogers to all the world. Roy was asked about Yates as late as 1982 and Roy responded, “I don’t want to talk about Yates, let’s just say he wasn’t very flexible.” A subtle response from a real cowboy and a gentleman.
Someone emailed us that Roy Rogers original name was not Sylvester. Immediately I thought, yea I know. What I didn’t realize is that in our conversation about inappropriate names for movie stars, the names Slye for a cowboy and Sylvester for a tough guy got mixed up. Oops! I apologize for such a silly error.
The writer also said the story about Leonard not owning the name Roy Rogers is not true. Well I was told this story by a retired movie producer that I knew years ago. He told me other stories about early Hollywood that also turned out to be true, so I’m sticking to it. Furthermore, a struggle like this was not even slightly uncommon between stars and studios.
In fact, this same source told me that Gene Autry was originally slated to play the starring role in “Under Western Stars” but ended up refusing over contract disagreements. Gene Autry had been on top but he provided an opportunity for the man who would become the King of Cowboys, Roy Rogers.
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